Middletown, New Jersey —
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the family of Port Authority Officer Kenneth Tietjen began receiving donations from around the world.
Tietjen was one of the many brave men and women who died trying to save people after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. He was one of 37 residents of Middletown, New Jersey, who perished that day — the most of any town in the State of New Jersey and second only the fatalities in New York City.
“He rushed from his post … he commandeered a taxi cab and went to the World Trade Center,” then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said of Tietjen’s efforts.
When Christmas 2001 came around, the Tietjen family didn’t feel right spending the money they had received, so they decided to honor their brother.
“People from all over the country sent us money, and we didn’t feel right spending that money,” Kenneth’s sister Laurie told Rare.
Laurie Tietjen started Mini Horse Heroes to continue her brother's legacy of kindness in a very different way.
That year, they purchased 11 bicycles for local children in need, just as Kenneth had done for many years before his death.
Over the years, the number of bicycles grew — and so did the number of beneficiaries. Then Laurie started Mini Horse Heroes to continue her brother’s legacy of kindness in a very different way.
Two horses, Honor and Hamlet, live on a farm in central New Jersey and learn the ins and outs of animal therapy.
The horses are trained to be kind around people and calm when brought to people who need them. They are fully deputized officers in many area towns and have helped out police officers in need on many occasions.
Though they are based in New Jersey, the horses have traveled across the country to people who need a smile. They have been allowed into hospitals to see sick children, many of whom didn’t know horses could be so small. Each year, the horses can be found at Police Week in Washington, D.C., where they spend time with families of officers who have died in the line of duty.
You can't not smile when you're with them.
Many volunteers donate their time to care for the horses so others can get that special smile the horses provide.
Alison Kelly, a Middletown native and Mini Horse Heroes volunteer, explained how special the horses are.
“You can’t not smile when you’re with them,” Kelly told Rare. “It’s rewarding for us to see the work we can do in the community and make everyone’s day a little bit better.”
Though she wasn’t old enough to have memories of the Sept. 11 attacks, Kelly knows the deep impact it had on her town and feels that helping with the horses is her small way of giving back.
“It feels like I’m doing my part to give back,” she said. “I was young when it happened … I’m glad that I have a chance to help now and honor someone who unfortunately died on 9/11.”
This is part of a personal, original Rare series reflecting on a national-turned-hometown tragedy. See the complete series and find full 9/11 anniversary coverage at on.rare.us/911.
The death and life of my hometown | Reflecting on 9/11, a national-turned-hometown tragedy for Middletown, N.J.
A moment in tragedy | How this train station became an unlikely symbol of healing after the 9/11 attacks
A legacy of kindness | After her brother died on 9/11, a woman found this unique way to spread peace
“Get your aircraft to the ground” | 15 years after 9/11, this pilot remembers the day air travel came to a grinding halt
A legacy of bravery, sacrifice | As the towers started to burn on 9/11, this officer rushed from his post to save as many lives as possible
Life’s greatest gift amid heartbreak | With tears in her eyes, she remembers a new mom whose husband didn’t come home on 9/11
A sobering connection | This teacher’s perspective on how many people from her town died on 9/11 will bring you to tears